Eight tiny new species of gecko discovered in Madagascar


Madagascar is a wilderness region of stunning natural beauty and unique plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth. The island can now claim eight new species of gecko described for the first time by scientists.

The international team of researchers published their findings in the journal Zootaxa.

Madagascar’s lush rainforests – home to pits, pygmy chameleons, giant hissing cockroaches, tortoises and numerous lemurs – are rich hotbeds for studying animals and their evolution. Researchers have been studying Madagascar’s geckos for decades, including the little brown Lygodactyl geckos in the subgenus Domerguelle.

From the start, they tried to understand the distribution and evolution of geckos from the assumption that there were only five species.

Seven of the newly described species of dwarf geckos from Madagascar. Credit: P.-S. Gehring, H.-P. Berghof, M. Vences & MD Scherz.

But new DNA analysis and an examination of the animals’ scales has led scientists to believe there could be as many as seventeen. Eight new species were named in the journal. In some places, as many as three or four species have been found sharing the same location.

“It was a remarkable discovery,” says first author Professor Miguel Vences of Technische Universität Braunschweig, Germany. “On the Montagne d’Ambre in the north of Madagascar, we thought we were only harvesting one species, but now we find that there are four. Four different, closely related species, almost indistinguishable to us, occurring together in one place, seemingly without interbreeding – this is exceptional, even for Madagascar.

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There are over 300 species of reptiles known to live in Madagascar. Of these species, over 90% are endemic and 36 of the 64 genera found on the island are found nowhere else.

Having eluded detection for so long, it’s no surprise that many of the new species of reptiles and amphibians recently discovered in Madagascar are tiny. The new geckos are no exception.

Domerguelle are tiny, just five to seven centimeters from the nose to the tip of the tail,” says lead author Dr. Mark D. Scherz, curator of herpetology at the Natural History Museum of Denmark. “We think their small size may play a role in how they speculate because small animals are generally less able to move from one area to another and are more likely to be isolated by barriers like rivers. that arise between populations. This could explain why we’ve seen these kinds of patterns in tiny frogs, chameleons and now also geckos that we’ve studied in Madagascar.

The new findings have also shed light on how some species are threatened with extinction before we even know they exist.

“The five species we previously knew were mostly considered non-threatened, but the eight new species are all either probably endangered or critically endangered,” says Dr Fanomezana Ratsoavina, head of the unit for zoology and animal biodiversity at the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar. . “This shows how important it is to continue working to discover, describe and assess the conservation status of Madagascar’s wildlife.”

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